A dim dawn stretched out on the horizon as a simple farmer awoke, stretching his rough hands towards that enduring ceiling known as the great grey sky. This man was the kind of farmer who used all the latest tools from the Agricole company to maximize his yield, to avoid being subsumed by his mounting loans. He would send the crops off to oblivion in the city, receiving just enough cash to never ask questions. Soon, though, questions would be all he had left.
Like any morning, he walked out to the foggy morning road and, checking the mailbox, found a large envelope of unbleached paper waiting for him. It was addressed to him from some governmental bureau. On the roadside bristling with frosty nettles he opened the envelope by ripping it his thick fingers, curious and eager to get on with his workday.
Inside the envelope, the card seemed small, confounding the farmer’s expectation that a notice from the government would at least be able to reach into the four corners of the space inside the packet in which it was placed. It was a summons to appear at the county courthouse in the next days.
Vale, he thought, a chance to air his grievances—what ever they might be—to an official from a blind institution he pays taxes for.
So the eager farmer trudged forward from the desolate dawn, completing his morning chores in great haste. He went out to the fields shovel in hand to widen the irrigation ditches around the field he worked but did not own. His duties were minimal, it was mid-season and the crops were still maturing in their cultured rows. When the crops turned from green and wet to golden, he could reap the fruits of his labor, turning over only a portion to his landlord and the gov.
At noon the wooden farmer washed his hands and began to ponder the structure of the chaotic mass that makes up the government—its courts and mail deliverers, its threatening cops—that attracted him to it that afternoon. He only ever went into town to replace the impotent seeds of his harvest for when he planted a seed and it grew, it fruited and never bore seeds. Every other season he would have to return to the Agricole company to buy a new stock. He imaged himself as a small wobbling satellite caught in the gravitational pull of the massive gaseous body with a leaden core.
These first questions of a seemingly mute authority occupied his thoughts as he threw himself onto an old sagging mule and began the slow two-day saunter to the county seat. Time spread itself out before him, marked by hazy fields and hollow forests on both sides of the road. His conscious flooded with even more questions that he asked no one but the mysterious world that lit his trek like a flashlight held firm in a shaking hand in the night.
After the sun cracked the horizon, extinguished, and was reborn gloriously over the eastern horizon like some undisturbed candle, the tired farmer reached the tall courthouse with its plaster columns. He hung up the mule at a post beside a dry watering trough with what seemed like dozens, maybe hundreds of horses, donkeys, and mules huffing to each other in rows. The hapless farmer tied him up tight—he remembered being told that the city people tended to steal what was most useful to a person.
He walked up the steps to the rabbit hole-like double doors between the towering chipped-white columns and knocked on the false-wooden surface. One door swung open dramatically and the apprehensive farmer stepped in with his cobbled wooden shoes. With his stiff hands he closed the door delicately behind him. To his left was a large (to him) hall of seats at the end of which stood a judges desk on top of a metal framed band stand. The judge motioned him near.
Slow plodding footsteps—the kind he used when he was sneaking up on an errant chicken—carried the farmer to the bench. As he approached he noticed two desks on either side of him facing the bench, each with a placard reading “Prosecution” and “Defense” on his right and left respectively. The dark sense of mystery grew in the quivering farmer like his slowly ripening crops—he could feel a distant terror.
Without a single word cracking the stale air the proceedings were carried out. The white-wigged judge nodded firmly at the prosecution and the prosecution nodded immediately in return, sporting a sideways grin. The judge then tilted his head at the defense who nodded immediately in return and then lowered her eyes with a distant solemnity.
The judge, by this time quite sleepy from all the nodding gave a final tilt of his fat face to the bailiff. The eager cop took the now desperately confused but respectfully silent farmer by the elbow and led him into an adjacent, dimly lit room. He pressed the farmer’s fingertips into an inkpad and then recorded the ink print in a lined ledger. The bailiff then placed the farmer’s wide and clenched white hands onto a soaking wet block.
When he looked at his hands protruding from his sleeve-cuffs, they felt like alien appendages, separated somehow from rest of his body. They lay on the block innocently and impotently (although a distant voice in his head reminded him that they had more than enough power to reap the new harvest). When he stooped to peer at these foreign hands before him, he recognized what had made the block wet, what he couldn’t see in the fading light. It was covered in half-coagulated blood—brown and black, fresh and rusty red.
Just as this revelation cleared the pale farmer’s consciousness a cop (different from the bailiff) swung down a dirty steal blade. What some call mystery and reality was now hammered into a thin line of searing comprehension and a surprise like Novocain.
Two hands rolled off the block onto the ground with the dull thud of a far off thunderstorm and a handless farmer stumbled backwards in numb disbelief. His silence stuck to his shock.
The bailiff led him out of the courthouse with his wrists looking like cleanly cut carnations dripping red paint on the white marble tile. Another staid farmer dressed in coarse cotton like himself walked up the steps from the pack of tethered animals. The recently arrived farmer passed the handless farmer and disappeared into the deep halls of the run-down courthouse with the bailiff.
Ejected from that cold reckoning without his hands, the farmer gazed upwards in disbelief. The floral embellishments that wreathed the caps of the non-load-bearing Solomonic columns seemed only to mock him in his destitution. Then his senses started to come-to and his eyes turned red as his missing hands started to ache and itch uncontrollably. He screamed so loud that the sound echoed off of the façade of the courthouse into the stillborn day. A few crows fluttered their wings in a sort of guarded cynical response and the pinioned, whip-scarred horses, donkeys, and mules just shuffled and snorted.
When his voice finally ran dry like a mouthful of burning sand, the disabled farmer looked around him, becoming aware again of his environment. On every step of the courthouse was a quietly weeping woman or man, rubbing thick blood into their cheeks and eyes as they tried with severed stumps to stifle their salty tears. The farmer’s cheeks were just as warm with drying blood and a pitiful streaming of futile tears.
It occurred to the slightly less confused farmer to get as far away from the courthouse as he could and so he alighted the steps towards the familiar stoop-backed mule. For a forgotten period of time he fumbled with the strap but to no avail, he could not free the mule. He could see that the straps on the hitching post were covered in scabs as though the leather was bleeding again and resigned to abandon the mule. Like the other victims, the farmer left his mule to starve with the other lost dromedaries at the false columns of justice from which labor-hewn hands never return.
Slave animals in their desiccated pastures witnessed a handless farmer plodding his way unmounted down the gravel road from the county seat. Their gazes flashed brave indifference as though they were whispering to the farmer with their eyes. They were telling him, if you don’t like it, try taking a run at the electrified barbed-wire fence at separates us.
Staggering steps took the desperate farmer back to his farm, to the world he knew and that comforted him with sweaty work and a lumpy bed. He could barely focus on his handlessness as memories of threshing and packing bales filled his senses. A deep ache emitted from the ends of his wrists, yes, he thought, he could continue to live like anyone. And he recounted the work that would have to be done after such a hiatus, how many spider webs and cobs webs and complex shadows of memories had propped themselves up in the corners of his barn.
Before the fateful trek to the courthouse, the farmer’s perception of time spread out at an even and languid pace. Like a sheet, fresh off the line, spread over a still mattress or a tablecloth laid down over chipped and scarred wood.
But now as he moved, the trip seemed to stretch out indefinitely before him like a coastline, all jagged and bunched up. The troubled farmer noticed at the outset of his return that each moment dragged, stopped to tie its shoe at every fence post (something the farmer would never be able to do again) as they moved toward the future together. Then these moments started to fly past him, engulfing him like a mad flock of swallows, as if his passage among the farms, factories, and brick houses was hardly worth the effort.
The sights and landmarks that the exhausted farmer could recognize started to linger like ghosts in the periphery of his red-stained eyes. For the farmer, time decided to slow itself, infinitely expanding the atmosphere between his source, his current locale, and his much-desired destination (home).
And time distortion was something the farmer had never experienced before—beyond losing track of time during the hot workdays. He thought for a fleeting-lagging moment, hazy with the pain of his still bleeding wrists, that he was some sort of time traveler.
Time had always abided by its own fluid laws and took offense at being perceived as a bumpy road to be traversed by the mortal feet of humans. Time always took pride in its unpredictable and unnavigable nature, like a river that every single living thing was thrown into. Chaotic waters left the farmer and everyone in a struggle for life that eventually ended in sinking treacherously below the flat coursing surface, without question. It was a force that coursed and cut through the land without ever facing a challenge from the fish that floundered within its quantum boundaries.
A lucid thought cracked the handless farmer’s thoughts: why did the bailiff take his fingerprints? The thoughts that accompanied his journey telescoped in the void—the delirium from his blood-loss kaleidoscoped. He began to remember figments from the past as though they were happening before his eyes. Not like a memory, but rather a system or a matrix of systems, occupied by his physical senses, metaphysical senses, and his actions. All of time bunched up and it felt like a sharp pain in his hands. He became conscious of the chaotic architecture of his perception of concepts and motifs developing in time:
Had he ever seen the ocean? The reflecting farmer thought as the dim echo grew. No, it doesn’t even exist.
There he was as a boy, standing before the endless steaming sea. Salt water violently embraced the rocks, shattering and showering his face with the spray. Then the cliff seemed to grow taller and the edges hemmed as the fever memory frayed.
His head plunged under water, a young adult farmer. The river he was floating in spread over his senses the cool jaded water rolling over his soft fingertips. Water that washed away memories at court. Then he pulled his head up and out of the washtub at his parent’s former abode, soap stinging his eyes.
Now everything just stood still, columns of faded memories came together in a rippling line. The farmer was caught in quicksand, struggling against himself while nature looked stoically on. His faint memory of the infinite ocean was enveloped in anguish, tarnishing a constantly recalled fantasy. Ice cracked and melted away like blood leaving his veins.
Relentless was the drought that made his first crop whither. He dehydration stuck to his tongue and lips like the sour smell of thick urine. He could taste the torrid tears of futility that cleaved his cheek and mixed with thick mud. He had run to the irrigation ditch too late to save the drowning, crying animal.
The echo of lightening and the flash flood that took his parents; the tears that drained his life from him. The root of the memory was then completely lost to the branches, the leaves, and the flowers in bloom; in fact, time had felled the tree entirely.
The entangled farmer always refused fish, remembering the story of a great explorer who forbade his family and friends from mentioning the ocean. When he came home, he abruptly forgot about all his intrepid days as an agent of empire, and the explorer’s only response was, “Who likes to be reminded of the ocean.” He even packed away the pelt of a tiger he had shot because this tiger was unique: channels of tears permanently stained its cheeks.
Peaceful waters and turbulent both overtook the walking farmer, lapping at the bow of his ship as he piloted the reverberating ether of his entire life with stone oars.
Before the courthouse sat a dry birdshit-covered fountain. The distant farmer knew his mule was tethered at the dry trough. He thought that they’d be together now, but the mule was probably dead by dehydration now, or kidnapped in the silent city night.
The quantum warping of memory overlapped disparate experiences with water that build on and affecting his perception of memories that had been formed before. His squinting blick of the ocean was completely effaced in his distress and the waters overtook him. Every memory of water was surging and time and space were a heavy vapor or so much steam, twisting and dissipating, crying out loud and drowning in the torrent.
The water on his face, once from draining memories, was now from tears, blood, and sweat, washing away a teaming ocean that never existed to begin with. The ghost-dancing memories connected to the sensations of water had washed him clean of all recollection of his first encounter with the ocean. Only landly toil and a handless death remained. He could only see the salt ravine of tears shed by the handless. He ambled on through his perceptions, no longer aware of when or where he was.
Like with the Mad Hatter and the March Hare. time took the next turn in the road away from the near-death farmer, abandoning him to bleed to death in cacophonous thought. The sun stood still in the torn sky from that moment on, and the lofty cogs of history ground to a halt.
– Michaël Veremans